UNH disposes of Lehigh, 64-21; Wildcats amass 637 yards of total offense
DURHAM – There was nothing unlucky about the University of New Hampshire’s 13th consecutive postseason trip.
The Wildcats piled up 637 yards of total offense and pounded Lehigh University 64-21 on Saturday in the first round of the FCS playoffs at Wildcat Stadium.
UNH (8-4) moves on to play at No. 4 James Madison University (10-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Big plays came early and often from the No. 22 Wildcats, who scored the first 22 points and maintained a 36-14 advantage over the No. 18 Mountain Hawks by halftime.
Dalton Crossan – who finished with 185 rushing yards and three total touchdowns – was the first to find the end zone when his 5-yard touchdown scamper punctuated a six-play, 29-yard drive. The short field was supplied by an interception from Casey DeAndrade on the game’s opening possession.
"A fast start is something we pride ourselves on," Crossan said. "Last year (a playoff loss to Colgate) really taught us a good lesson in overlooking Patriot League teams coming to Durham.
"We came out ready to play and everybody was focused and everybody played hard."
Crossan broke loose for a 47-yard run to set up his own 10-yard touchdown catch from Adam Riese, and the quarterback hauled in a two-point pass from receiver Neil O’Connor on a trick play on the conversion to provide the Wildcats with a 15-0 cushion with 6:28 left in the first quarter. O’Connor was another offensive star with seven catches for 171 yards and a score.
"Really good effort today. I thought we fired on a lot of cylinders," UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. "I was really proud of the way the kids attacked, got out, got going. The fast start at 15-0 was huge."
Both teams were playing with quarterbacks who spent most of the regular season on the sideline.
Nashua South graduate and Amherst native Trevor Knight, a sophomore, was relegated to backup duty after suffering an injury last week, but Riese, a senior, stepped in seamlessly. Riese completed 18 of 30 passes for 273 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, and he added 33 yards and a score on the ground.
"There was never a lack of confidence in the kid (Riese). I’ve been blessed," McDonnell said of his QB situation. "They help each other out. There’s no selfishness about it."
The Mountain Hawks (9-3) turned to Brad Mayes after starter Nick Shafnisky was limited to part-time duty with what Lehigh coach Andy Coen called an illness. Mayes was 24 of 43 for 273 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Shafnisky saw action, but was 5 of 13 for 41 yards with two picks and a lost fumble.
"I think we found out 10 minutes before the game," UNH cornerback Casey DeAndrade said of the QB swap. "(Mayes) has played a lot this year for them this year and he’s done a great job. … I think it was more sticking to the game plan and worrying about our job and not theirs."
Coen believed not having their quarterback at full capacity played a role in the defeat, but certainly wasn’t the singular reason for it.
"He’s different. That’s why he was the MVP of our league," Coen said of Shafnisky. "But we probably could’ve had 14 people out there at times and we weren’t getting it done."
UNH marched 98 yards in 10 plays early in the second quarter. The drive was capped by a 35-yard touchdown strike from Riese to O’Connor for a 22-0 lead with 10:06 left in the first half.
Lehigh showed some life with a seven-play, 76-yard drive, and the Mountain Hawks found the end zone with a 37-yard jaunt from Dom Bragalone.
The Wildcats bounced right back with a 16-yard TD run from Riese, and less than three minutes later, a 1-yard dive over the goal line from established a 36-7 cushion.
Lehigh took advantage of a pair Riese interceptions to trim the gap to 36-21, but UNH didn’t let the Mountain Hawks creep any closer.
"I thought we got back to doing what we needed to do on the defensive side, but more important, we answered offensively," McDonnell said.
Trevon Bryant had touchdown runs of 10 and 48 yards during the second half, and he finished with 113 yards on 11 carries. It’s the first time UNH has had two rushers with 100-plus yards since 2002.
"We know they have a very strong running game and I thought we’d be able to handle it, and we didn’t handle it, obviously," Coen said. "We were horrible making tackles.
"On the edge, they got to us," he added. "The cutbacks were really hurting us. We were trying to hit gaps and more than once, they cut all the way back and (had) big touchdown runs."
Kieran Presley caught a 4-yard touchdown and Evan Gray capped the scoring with a 25-yard scoring scamper with 14:07 remaining.
It was the highest-scoring playoff game for UNH since the Wildcats put up 55 against Colgate in 2005.
DeAndrade led the UNH defense with nine tackles and a pick, while Cam Shorey and Ryan Farrell each had a sack. Quinlen Dean and Pop Lacey each had an interception, as well.
James Madison, the second-round opponent for UNH, defeated the Wildcats 42-39 during the regular season on Oct. 15.